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Monday, September 06, 2010

Shana Tova! To my Friend, Earl Leslie Krugel

Shana Tova to all, especially the families of Earl Leslie Krugel and Irv Rubin, OBM, who sacrificed so much for the Jewish people, and all free thinking people.

Earl Krugel suffered for his heroism, but he never spoke of it.
I treasure every word from him in the extensive correspondence we shared.
I have never known someone who could laugh and sing and care so much while under a death sentence from the state, and the Islamist community, and the Nazi's, (yimach shemo), who are, regrettably, still with us.
If there is a G-d, he is there with my friend.
G-d Bless you, Earl!

Barack Hearts Bibi

September 6, 2010

We have entered into a new period of U.S. policy toward Israel for the Obama Administration. Basically, President Barack Obama needs Israel, requires its cooperation, and is eager to get along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How long this will last is unclear but it should characterize, barring unforeseen events, at least for the next year.

What is the basis of this new era? When it came to office, the Obama Administration was in radical mode, determined to distance itself from Israel as a key to winning over Arabs and Muslims, assuming that peace could be achieved with sufficient pressure on Israel as the only requirement, and hostile to Israel’s current government.

A measure of reality eventually set in, involving a large number of factors ranging from the lack of Arab cooperation, to Iran’s intransigence, the lack of progress in engaging Syria, and the tasks of dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration’s head-on charge over demanding a freeze of construction on settlements only produced a one-year-plus delay on Israel-Palestinian negotiations. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was uncooperative. American public opinion was unhappy with the policy toward Israel. 

This is not to say that the situation is simple but by September 2010 things are very different. The Obama Administration is desperate for diplomatic successes, or at least the appearance of having them. What’s happening regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons’ drive cannot be concealed or ignored.

The U.S. government is also is aware of falling public support--including a sharp decline in Jewish backing though pro-Israel forces extend far more widely throughout American society—on the eve of American elections. In addition, it’s clear that Netanyahu’s government isn’t going away and there is no “dovish” alternative that will give Obama everything he wants for little or nothing in exchange.

So now Obama needs Netanyahu. He needs to keep the new peace talks going and looking good. The president also requires that Netanyahu keep things quiet on the Israel-Palestinian front so as—so he thinks—to make it easier to get Arab and Muslim support for other U.S. policies. And since Obama’s orientation is mainly domestic and his world view is horrified by power politics, he wants to avoid international crises generally. Anti-Israel officials in the administration are being ignored.

The truth is—and this is analysis, not a political statement—Netanyahu and his government, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have performed brilliantly in facing this challenge. It has met U.S. requests without sacrificing Israeli interests, if nothing else secure in the knowledge that the PA isn’t going to make a deal any way and wanting to focus American attention on the Iranian threat. Whatever the U.S. government says in public it has to realize that the PA, not Israel, is the roadblock to peace. 

This kind of charm diplomacy may be what Netanyahu is best at doing. His 
speech in Washington was a masterpiece, praising Obama and making clear that his goal is a true and stable peace, not merely:

“A brief interlude between two wars…a temporary respite between outbursts of terror. We seek a peace that will end the conflict between us once and for all. We seek a peace that will last for generations.” He called Abbas, “my partner in peace….We recognize that another people share this land with us. And I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both peoples to live in peace, security and dignity.”

Netanyahu concluded: “I did not come here to win an argument. I came here to forge a peace. I did not come here to play a blame game where even the winners lose. I came here to achieve a peace that will bring benefits to all. I did not come here to find excuses. I came here to find solutions.” 

He made this approach without illusions: “We left Lebanon, we got terror. We left Gaza, we got terror. We want to ensure that territory we concede will not be turned into a third Iranian sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel. That is why a defensible peace requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and the many challenges that are sure to confront us.”

Is the PA going to meet even a single one of Israel’s requirements? End of conflict; real security guarantees, demilitarization of a Palestinian state, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, resettlement of all Palestinian refugees in the state of Palestine? Of course not. Possibly there might be agreement on some minor border changes but even that is unlikely, much less giving even the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem to Israel or some other parts of eastern or northern Jerusalem areas.

What Israel has to do, though, is to continue to put forward reasonable demands, show itself cooperative and flexible, while letting the months of futile talks roll ever onward. He isn’t threatened by right-wing walk-outs from the coalition, which at any rate will be discouraged by the fact that he isn’t actually giving anything away. At any rate, he controls the Likud; the Labor Party has no alternative; the opposition Kadima has no leadership or program. At some point next year, Netanyahu will call elections and win a resounding mandate. 

Abbas will go along with the charades up to a point but increasingly, as he gives nothing himself, will blame Israel for the lack of progress. Even Marwan Barghouti, leader of Fatah’s West Bank grassroots’ organization, opposes talks publicly and much of the Fatah establishment opposes them privately. Abbas will be itching to walk out and insist that only a unilateral declaration of independence can “solve” the issue. But during this period, at least, that’s the very last thing the Obama Administration wants: a huge crisis, a difficult decision, potential mass violence stirring up the region, a likely diplomatic catastrophe.

All of this doesn’t mean the administration understands the extent to which Iran’s nuclear weapons pose a big and negative strategic shift in the area, the extent of the threat from revolutionary Islamists, how Iraq is at the brink of political anarchy, the futility of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, the at least temporary loss of Turkey, the capture of Lebanon by the Iran-Syria bloc, and all the other ills of the Middle East. 

But the current U.S. government understands enough about what’s going on to comprehend that it doesn’t want a crisis with Israel as well and that it isn’t going to achieve some dramatic breakthrough to Arab-Israeli peace. As for Obama, no politician desires anything more passionately—other than election—than having someone else making him look good, perhaps especially when he doesn’t deserve it. Consequently, now is the time for a somewhat belated Obama-Netanyahu honeymoon.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to You can read and subscribe to his blog at

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Czech List: Sometimes Even A Conference Can Teach Vivid Political Realities

By Barry Rubin*
August 25, 2010

I'm not a big fan of conferences. There's nothing more repetitive than sitting in a panel where the presentations have interesting titles but are otherwise disappointing. Or listening to a speaker who may be very good but says absolutely nothing you don't know already. 

But sometimes you have fascinating experiences which are not exactly on the agenda. Here are three from a conference I attended in Prague a few years ago, each of which contains its own lessons. Incidentally, nothing about the below was off the record, though the names and some details have been omitted since this is about points, not personalities.

1. The German parliamentarian was well-dressed, angry, and red in the face. He raised his voice in righteous indignation. Why, he complained, were there a number of Israelis at the meeting but no Palestinians. Obviously he thought that he had caught the Czech hosts in some politically incorrect indiscretion. 

After he finished his somewhat insulting remarks and sat down, one of the Czechs stood up and explained very politely that plenty of Palestinians had been invited; all expenses paid, and had accepted but had simply not shown up. That's something I've seen plenty of times.

A Lesson: Why get rewarded for deciding not to succeed? Hamas refuses to act peacefully, and then is rewarded for having committed aggression and been soundly defeated as a result (2008-2009). Same applies for Hizballah (2006). The Palestinian Authority refuses to make peace and then is rewarded for alleged suffering under an occupation it has the power to end when it so wishes.

Recently, a reader made a startling suggestion to me that I think is a brilliant insight. In this day when not only equal opportunity but equal results is supposedly supposed (yes, that double use is deliberate) guaranteed, Israel is being "unfair" at doing so well socially and economically. 

In past decades, the failure of a nation to achieve democracy or prosperity would have been attributed to its own choices. That's a good thing because its people can then realize their mistakes, realize them, and succeed. Today, however, failure is often attributed to being a victim of racism, imperialism, and pure meanness.

Woody Allen allegedly said (it isn't clear that he did) that 99 percent of life is showing up. Yes, indeed. Showing up and performing well. But in the counter-Calvinism of our time, material achievement is a proof of damnation. 

The development theory of the 1950s and 1960s focused on how a country could achieve take-off to progress and prosperity. It is a model followed nowadays by China, South Korea, and some others.

The currently dominant view, at least in intellectual circles and among fashionable dictators and terrorists is the idea that underdevelopment is not a result of history, culture, society, and bad choices but of imperialist exploitation.  Instead of reforming yourself, the object is to wage war and other struggle to get the West to hand over the loot. This leads to violence, social intransigence, political stagnation, and failure. But at least it is a popular, rationalized failure.

2. The pompous American intellectual made a stirring speech about how great things were going in Afghanistan, a country he obviously knew nothing about. He was playing those Washington and academic games in which the lives of distant people are toyed with on the basis of book learning and theories. The fact that this particular fool happened to be conservative didn't change anything in the usual pattern.

My Afghan friend, who had been analyzing his own country for years and seen, as he put it, half his family murdered by the Communists and the other half murdered by the Islamists, could take no more. He stood up and countered with facts and details. His talk was a devastating response. The police in Kabul wouldn't leave their barracks to deal with violence. The war lords were out of control. Despite official optimism, Afghanistan was still Afghanistan and American plans were just illusions. 

A lesson: One would have thought that the arrogant fool would have been forever silenced by the graphic demonstration that he knew nothing and was speaking nonsense. Of course, such people are never influenced by that kind of humiliation. I've heard and read him since saying similar things. These "masters of the universe," to use Tom Wolfe's phrase-historically on the right but nowadays much more common on the left-think about their egos and careers, not the lives being affected by their prattling.

Nevertheless, the experience provided a stirring example of the difference between the real and fantasy worlds, between those who know and those who blow hot air, between those who merely articulate their ideological desires and those who have the courage to speak the truth.

I'm cynical enough to ask: Guess who gets the bigger honors and rewards? But not so pessimistic or craven to stop trying to do what's right. 

3. Its one thing to be a pacifist but quite another to talk like a pacifist while being a high-ranking official at the French Defense Ministry. The well-dressed, debonair, and relatively young man was explaining how nothing was worth fighting for, how conflict had to be avoided at virtually any cost. Naturally, he would object to my summary but it is nonetheless accurate.

I have a friend, though, who loves being provocative in a funny way. In personal life, he is a sweet and considerate person but he loves to play the role of the nasty, arrogant hardliner. You could see in his glittering eyes and slight smile that he saw a big fat target of opportunity.

And so as the French bureaucrat proclaimed that no one should go to war without prior approval of the UN, my friend stood up and pointed out that France had intervened dozens of times in Africa-overthrown governments, put down revolts, backed up oppressive regimes-without any reference to the UN whatsoever.

Up on stage, the French guy was livid, totally losing his temper, rose menacingly, and as I remember it threatened to punch out my friend. The spiritual man of peace had instantly turned into macho man cruising for a bruising. I think someone physically restrained him.

A lesson: When others advise that you have no right of self-defense, are using excessive force, and similar such stuff, note how ferocious they become and totally indifferent to moral or legal considerations when their interests are at stake.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to You can read and subscribe to his blog at

Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel